Powhatan School’s annual sixth grade Survival Trip is one of the many milestones students experience in the Upper School and is often referred to as one of the most memorable field trips at the school. The trip is a cross-curricular effort between the English Department and the Science Department.

Survival Trip:

The sixth grade Survival Trip is a custom-designed 2-day overnight trip along the Shenandoah River that is organized by Upper School faculty and led by Mountain View Ltd., which specializes in teaching primitive living skills and survival activities.

The students spend quality time in the outdoors and learn the self-sufficiency needed to stay in the outdoors by choice or by need. The program reinforces and expands on the classroom curriculum of the survival literature unit and the life science unit by offering insight into the history of the residents of the area and by demonstrating actual examples of the technology and culture of early local Native Americans. Specifically, the students learn how food is obtained in the wild, how to build friction fires, make tools, create string from plant material and practice archery.

Cross-Curricular: Hatchet

The outdoor survival activities parallel the fiction adventure Hatchet, the first unit of study in sixth grade English.

“They re-create a scene in the book during the trip where Brian, the main character, makes fire by gathering material in the woods,” recalls Ms. Louise Jaffe, who teaches sixth grade English at Powhatan. “The students have been reading the book and the survival trip activities make the literature come alive for them.”

Hatchet Survival TripReading this book allows the students to hone their inference skills and prepares them for the detailed reading they will be doing for the rest of the year. After we discuss each chapter, the students add to squares they have made in their notebooks. One square is labeled man vs. nature, and the other square is labeled man vs. self.

They engage in thoughtful discussions about the battles Brian faces against nature, but also the battles he has with himself. They write well-supported essays about the conflicts Brian faces in the book. When the group has finished Hatchet, they have a better understanding of the types of conflicts we find in literature.

“After reading Hatchet, I have a better understanding of each child’s strengths.”  ~ Ms. Jaffe

“After reading Hatchet, I have a better understanding of each child’s strengths,” says Ms. Jaffe, the sixth grade English teacher. “This knowledge allows me to differentiate their reading experience. I am then able to guide each student toward a more challenging book in order to strengthen their reading skills. The lessons we practiced while reading Hatchet for 3 weeks will be the lessons we hone in smaller book groups.”

Their in-depth reading of Hatchet also prepares the sixth graders for their Survival Trip. This is an overnight trip that involves spending lots of time in the Shenandoah River. They will see some of the most beautiful parts of the river and will camp across from tall cliffs that look over a calm part of the water.

Brian’s ability to make fire is a pivotal part of the book and the students learn how to make fire using items found in nature. While Brian remained alone in nature for 54 days, our students spend two beautiful days kayaking, canoeing, making arrowheads and blow darts, practicing archery, and sleeping under the stars.




*A special thank you to Dr. Dickson, who provided us with all of the terrific photos from the sixth grade survival trip!